NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - In December of 1944, with the Allies seemingly rolling to victory, they had already liberated many European cities. Back home, Americans were making post-war plans.
The Germans interrupted that victorious mood when they staged a surprise offensive, barreling through the forests of the Ardennes.
Walter Barzenick, a 22-year-old sergeant in the 3rd Armored Division, was among the soldiers who rallied to push back the Germans. Seventy-one years later in his son's Hammond, La. living room, Barzenick earned a special "thank you" from the people of France.
"The meaning of what you've done is so strong," Consul General of France Gregor Tremel said to Barzenick.
Before a small group of family and friends, Tremel presented Barzenick with France's highest decoration, the Legion of Honor.
"The French people will never forget what American soldiers have done to help restore our freedom," Tremel said.
French President Francois Hollande has declared that surviving American veterans who participated in the liberation of France are eligible for the Legion of Honor. That includes Barzenick, who turned 93 years old on Nov. 28,
The Legion of Honor goes back to 1802, created by none other than Napoleon Bonaparte. After learning of the award, Barzenick's son, Jay, set out on a mission to navigate the application process and document his father's service.
"There's not that many World War II veterans left in this world and it hit me, I need to do that," Barzenick said.
The New Orleans consulate conducts one of these ceremonies, often in more public places, every few weeks. This one takes on special meaning after last month's terrorist attacks in Paris. Tremel said he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for the people of France.
"This is very important to feel that we're not alone, that we're all together to defend with the countries who share the same values," Tremel said.